Most of today’s digital cameras come with a simple, point-and-shoot mode for creating panoramic images.
But back in the days of film cameras, creating a panoramic photograph meant either spending hours in the darkroom, painstakingly stitching images together by overlapping exposures onto the finished photo paper or buying an expensive panoramic format camera.
A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa showcases panoramic photographs of Canadian cities from the 19th century. These images, which come from the collections of Library and Archives Canada, document how early photographers used this wide format to capture and celebrate the rapid urban development of their time.
Panoramic photographs exaggerated a town’s size and accentuated its landmarks. This made them useful promotional images and much sought-after travel souvenirs.
The following image is part of a rare panorama of Toronto from 1856. The full panorama (consisting of 12 images) was intended to be used in the city’s bid to be named the capital of the United Canadas. At the time these images were created, photography was a cumbersome and expensive practice.
To take this view of the city, the photographer had to lug heavy equipment and chemicals to the rooftop of the Rossin House Hotel. The slow emulsion and wet collodion process required long exposures, which resulted in blurred movement and rendered busy streets into seemingly quiet, deserted spaces.
In 1887, Canadian photographer John Connon patented a panoramic camera, which permitted a continuous, near 360-degree exposure. Capturing images on waxed paper negatives, Connon’s camera rotated on a turntable.
Connon probably used his new camera to take this view of the Canadian Pacific Railway as it passed through the town of Fergus, Ontario.
In addition to being used to capture urban development, panoramic photography was used to take photographs of landscapes, significant events and portraits of large groups.